Families create all sorts of traditions to spend time together; they are what make the holidays special.
For Florida outdoorsmen and women, a love of the outdoors, hunting and wild game feasts are among the best holiday traditions! Enjoying the outdoors with loved ones is especially important during a year as challenging as this one.
Cameron Gordon grew up a few miles east of Orlando, and the holidays are an extra special time to get away from the demands of daily life and do what he enjoys most — small game hunting at Florida’s wildlife management areas (WMAs).
Gordon’s holidays begin with an annual Thanksgiving trip to St. Johns River. The morning begins in a marsh with a buddy, his trusty retriever, a thermos of coffee and the eager anticipation of ducks buzzing their decoy spread. In the afternoon is a snipe hunt.
The time between Christmas and New Year’s marks another special outdoor tradition as Cameron’s family and friends celebrate the season with a camping trip at Triple N Ranch Wildlife Management Area.
At Triple N and many other WMAs, there are plenty of small game options, so each person can pursue their favorite hunt — dove, ducks, quail, rabbit, gray squirrel and more.
“It’s a challenge, deciding what gun and shot size to bring because there’s so much opportunity at Triple N,” Cameron says. “The area has creeks, marshes, fields and food plots. It’s my favorite wildlife management area!”
The day culminates with a wild game feast that would be the envy of foodies everywhere. They get the fire started and everyone contributes to the campfire meal, from venison stew to roasted dove, quail and all the fixings.
Cameron, who represented hunters during a Triple N Ranch Management Advisory Group meeting, is introducing his young sons to hunting now with the hope these rich family traditions will carry on into the future.
Elizabeth Bland, the Florida state president for the American Daughters of Conservation, celebrates the New Year with an all-day deer hunt joined by the family dogs. She cherishes the time spent with her husband, brother, sister-in-law and niece as well as the thrill of hunting behind her Walker hounds.
“It’s a day full of action,” Bland says. “Whether you harvest a deer or not, watching the dogs that you bred, raised and trained doing something they love and doing it well makes the whole trip worth it.”
After the hunt, the family gathers together, including Bland’s parents, to prepare and eat a delicious Low Country Boil. They then ring in the new year around a roaring campfire, sharing stories of the day’s hunt and reminiscing about past hunts.
The holiday hunting tradition for Glenn Whittington goes back years. Whittington hails from south of Ocala and now lives in Bradfordville.
Every year, Whittington and his father would spend four to five days after Thanksgiving at a friend’s and family deer camp. It was a special time to enjoy the company of his father and it fueled his passion for wildlife, conservation and hunting.
Today, Whittington is passing on those family traditions — so they don’t disappear — by introducing his sons to hunting. They enjoy hunting deer, dove and duck together as well as wild turkey in the spring.
“The holidays are a chance to get outdoors with my sons. We take every opportunity we can to camp and hunt around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s,” Whittington says. “When I was young, my father and I hunted Citrus WMA, which was only a half-mile from where we lived. Being able to hunt public land is still important. My sons and I have hunted at Joe Budd WMA and are planning to check out Apalachee WMA.”
During the holidays, hunting seasons for deer, duck, dove, snipe, quail and gray squirrel are in full swing in Florida. If you’re one of those lucky people who can take a break from work, the winter holidays are an exciting time to either enjoy either an existing hunting tradition or start a new one.
Florida is perfect for the great outdoors, having one of the largest wildlife management area systems in the country — nearly 6 million acres, which offers a wide range of hunting opportunities.
Whether you are a novice or experienced hunter, resources and information at MyFWC.com/Hunting can help create your own special holiday hunting tradition!